Editor’s note: This genealogy column ran in the Aug. 30, 1998, issue of the Tribune-Star.
This week I will review the fourth great migration from Britain to the colonies described by William Dollarhide in his book, “British Origins of American Colonists,” 1629-1775. This is the migration of British and Scottish borderlands people to America via Ireland.
The borderlands of England and Scotland comprise the English counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, and parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Durham, plus the Scottish counties of Ayr, Burwick, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Roxburgh and Wigtown. This area has a unique history. From 1040 to 1745 these lands were a bone of contention between England and Scotland. For 700 years the region was invaded by British and Scottish monarchs and passed back and forth between the two countries. There was constant warring and violence; no period of peace had lasted even 50 years.
Culturally, the borderlands people were unique. They identified themselves most as Scottish lowlanders, whether they were actually Scottish or English. They were characterized as fierce warriors, proud individuals, and basically “uncivilized.”
After centuries of violence, England and Scotland were united under King James I (who was also King James VI of Scotland). James also acquired Northern Ireland and set about populating it with Protestant English settlers, driving out the native Irish Celtic populations, who were predominantly Catholic. (This was the beginning of the conflict that has existed in Northern Ireland to the present day). In Northern Ireland, King James saw a chance to accomplish two goals: first, to populate Ireland with English Protestants, and second, to export the troublesome and undesirable borderland people to Ireland, thus “civilizing” the borderlands region.
After the Act of Union in 1707, which united England and Scotland, the borderer way of life was systematically broken up and the people removed to Northern Ireland. There, they suffered exploitation, poverty, and sometimes starvation, under a system of tenancy farming for wealthy landlords. While in Northern Ireland, the borderlands people did not assimilate with the native Celtic population or the ruling English class. They kept their own cultural ways intact.
Starting in 1717, and continuing for the next 40 years, the borderers began migrating from Northern Ireland to the American colonies. The peak years of migration coincided with the years of the worst crop failures in Northern Ireland, but the average rate was about 5,000 people per year. These people came seeking, not religious freedom, but economic security. The majority came over, not as individuals, but as family units.
These immigrants are today often referred to as “Scotch-Irish,” but this is actually a misnomer. Although they had resided in Ireland prior to their move to the American colonies, they were not Irish and did not share any of the cultural characteristics of the Irish. The Scottish borderers were primarily Scottish lowlanders who were Presbyterians, and practiced a type of Christianity called “New Light.” The English borderers were “English” in name only. Culturally, they were more Scottish, but practiced “New Light” Anglicanism.
Next week, I will continue with the cultural heritage these immigrants left on American life.